Violence against women has always been a growing concern in India, with multiple reports of motivated crimes reported every day. Just this week, several crimes against women have come to light in the media, exposing the bleak nature of the Indian legal system.
A student of the Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) was molested and forcibly kissed by three unidentified men. It is also alleged that she was forcibly stripped and recorded by the men. The incident reportedly took place late Wednesday, following which thousands of students gathered in protest at the institute director’s office on Thursday morning. They demanded better security arrangements on campus.
The protestors claimed there are no security personnel in most of the areas of the institute promoting safety hazards for women. The CCTVs installed in residences and campus are also out of order, they added.
Horrified to read this. https://t.co/1BnydxKzqq— वरुण 🇮🇳 (@varungrover) November 2, 2023
On October 30, a 25-year-old married woman succumbed to burn injuries, 12 days after her ex-boyfriend had burnt her alive at her home in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. In her statement to the police, the woman had said that the ex-boyfriend and his friend broke into her house, poured kerosene on her and set her on fire before her neighbours attempted to save her. She also said that he threatened to attack her seven-year-old son. The accused has been arrested on November 1.
In spite of the provision of Section 354D by the Indian Penal Code, stalking is a common crime against Indian women. The latest issue (2021) of the Crime in India report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that one case of stalking is reported every hour in India. In a lot of cases, when the stalkers' advances are not reciprocated, they resort to crimes like assault, murder, or rape.
In another case of stalking which came to light this week, a 28-year-old woman reported that a man had been stalking her since they met on a matrimonial site over three years ago. Upon getting rejected by the woman, the accused started blackmailing her over private photographs and started following her to her workplace and home. According to the police, the woman stated that her family rejected the accused's marriage proposal as he expected a Rs.20 lakh dowry from them.
The looming threat of dowry
According to the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, giving, taking, or abetting dowry is a punishable offence of five years in prison and a fine of Rs.15,000. Yet, it is a persistent threat even in today's society, as NCRB data suggests that 35,493 cases of dowry-related deaths took place in India, between 2017 and 2021. About 20 women die due to dowry demands every day.
An example of this dowry death that took place on October 31 highlights the gruesome persistence of the dowry system in India. A 23-year-old woman from Panchkula died from suicide due to harassment over dowry by her husband's family. The woman's father told the police that she had been married for six months and was subjected to domestic violence and harassment by her in-laws demanding Rs.10 lakhs as dowry. Domestic violence too is a concern in Indian society, in spite of the provision of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005.
Why is the law falling behind?
While there is no deficiency in the availability of laws to protect women, the NCRB records of the last five years state that around 1 crore cases of violence against women have been registered in these years. Approximately 49 cases of crime against women were reported each hour. The report also states that many cases of violence go unreported due to lack of social support.
Many women choose to remain silent as they are not made self-reliant or educated on the legal provisions and basic rights. Crimes against women are rooted in regressive societal expectations, economic disparity, and abuse of power by police and other public servants. Thus it is high time women are made socially, economically, and educationally empowered in order to utilise the country's legal provisions to the best extent.
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested reading: 5 Recent Women-Led Protests That Changed the World